VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis reportedly is considering whether he will make Pope Pius XII a saint, in the same way that he approved the cause of John XXIII.
A source who works at the Vatican’s Congregation for Causes of Saints, who asked for anonymity, told Catholic News Agency July 25 that, “just as Pope Francis moved ahead with John XXIII’s canonization, he is considering the same thing for Pius XII.”
According to the normal procedures, Pius XII would be beatified once a miracle attributed to his intercession is officially certified by a team of doctors and recognized by a commission of cardinals.
But if Pope Francis decides to go ahead without a miracle, he could “even canonize him with the formula of scientia certa (certainty in knowledge), thereby jumping over the step of beatification,” the source said.
“Only the Pope is able to do it, and he will if he wants to.”
Pope Francis is very interested in Pius XII because “he considers him ‘a great,’ in the same way as John XXIII is, even if for different reasons,” the source explained.
But there is also a historical reason that Pope Francis is interested in Pius XII.
When Pope Paul VI started the beatification and canonization process in 1967, nine years after Pius XII’s death, he formed a committee of historians to conduct an in-depth study of his predecessor’s life and behavior, giving particular attention to the events of World War II.
The committee was made up of four Jesuits: Fathers Pierre Blet (France), Angelo Martini (Italy), Burkhart Schneider (Germany) and Robert Graham (United States).
Their work led to the publication of Actes et Documents du Saint Siège relatifs à la Seconde Guerre Mondiale (Acts and Documents of the Holy See Related to the Second World War), an 11-volume collection of documents from the Vatican’s Secret Archives about Pius XII’s papacy during that tumultuous time.
Yet the remainder of the documents from Pius XII’s papacy is not expected to be released until 2014 — the time it will take to organize the papers.
The completed catalogue will include approximately 16 million documents from Pius XII’s papacy (1939-1958).
Pope Benedict XVI initially decided to postpone Pius XII’s cause for sainthood and advocated waiting until the archives would be open for researchers in 2014.
But Benedict changed his mind and declared Pius XII to be "venerable" on Dec. 19, 2009, based on the recommendation of the committee investigating his cause.
The decision was met with criticism from some Jewish quarters, which charged that Pius XII was silent about the Holocaust and did not do enough to resist the Germans.
Despite the conclusions of the committee, the debate that followed the initial criticism brought Pius XII’s canonization process to a halt.
According to Matteo Luigi Napolitano, a member of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Science, who wrote several books about Pius XII, “for what concerns the historical judgment, the dossier on Pius XII is almost complete.”
Napolitano added in his July 29 interview with CNA, “Theological judgments on Pius XII’s life and behavior” are “not (the) competence of the historians.”
His remarks referred to what is known as a positio, a document that is compiled for every person being considered for canonization, after they have been declared “venerable,” the second step in the canonization process.
The study is comprised of two parts: The first deals with the history of the person and is sketched by a commission of historians, while the second contains a “theological judgment” on the life and works of venerable, which is handed down by a theological committee.
Similar to John XXIII?
At the moment, according to the source from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Pope Francis has said he wants Pius XII’s cause to move ahead.
Since there are several miracles attributed to Pius XII’s intercession, the source explained that Pope Francis might decide that he will sidestep the normal process and declare him a saint.
“It is not impossible that the Pope would act in the way he did for the canonization of John XXIII.”
When Pope Francis decided to approve the canonization of John XXIII, he submitted his case to a vote by the members of the congregation, despite the fact that “a miracle attributed to the intercession of John XXIII was discussed,” the source said.
But “the miracle would have needed further checks,” the Vatican official explained, so Pope Francis “opted to canonize him without waiting for the certification of the miracle.”
The source maintained, “This seems to be possible for what concerns Pius XII.”
Napolitano acknowledged the possibility of the Pope pushing the cause forward. There are “several (saints') causes that, for several reasons, are the object of pressures,” he remarked.
What remains to be seen is whether Pius XII being declared a saint will result in a new debate about the emerging historical record of the wartime pope or a recycling of the claims that he was “Hitler’s Pope.”
Napolitano noted, “The debate about Pius XII is more widely a debate about the Shoah, i.e. the biggest tragedy of the Second World War.”
So, Napolitano said, “it is normal to investigate what the Vatican did during that period.”
This investigation involves several areas of interest: the choice of the Holy See to remain neutral, the way Christian values were lived during that period, the choices of Catholics who confronted the tactics of the Nazis and what dioceses and clergy in countries involved in the war did.
Not ‘Hitler’s Pope’
Napolitano underlined that “the positio on Pius XII is made up of all of these aspects, with a collection of sources that agreed the Congregation for the Causes of Saints should carry their job forward.”
For what concerns a historical judgment of Pius XII’s behavior, Napolitano said, “Interpretations can vary, but I can say that the most authoritative Jewish, Catholic and lay historians agree on one key point: Eugenio Pacelli never was, and he never could be, ‘Hitler’s Pope.’”